Half a Billion Voices Heard: How Many Votes Echoed Across India's Election Phases?

According to the data provided by the ECI, a staggering total of 507 million votes have been polled so far in the ongoing general elections.
Half a Billion Voices Heard: How Many Votes Echoed Across India's Election Phases?
Half a Billion Voices Heard: How Many Votes Echoed Across India's Election Phases?

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has been under scrutiny for its handling of voter turnout data in the recent general elections. The issue came to the forefront on May 25 when the ECI finally released the absolute numbers of votes polled across all completed phases. This move followed significant pressure from various quarters for greater transparency in the electoral process.

According to the data provided by the ECI, a staggering total of 507 million votes have been polled so far in the ongoing general elections. In Phase one, 110 million (110,052,103) votes were polled; in Phase two, 105 million (105,830,572); in Phase three, 113 million (113,234,676); in Phase four, 122 million (122,469,319); and in Phase five, 55.7 million (55,710,618) votes were polled.

This disclosure came after a prolonged period of criticism directed at the ECI for not providing the exact figures, leading to speculation and doubt regarding the integrity of the electoral process.

The controversy surrounding the release of voter turnout data is not new. Since the 2019 general elections, there have been persistent concerns about discrepancies between the voter turnout figures and the actual votes counted on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Reports emerged suggesting that in several constituencies, the number of votes recorded on EVMs exceeded the total voter turnout, raising questions about the accuracy of the data provided by the ECI.

The discrepancies prompted election-watchdog organizations like the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Common Cause to take legal action. In November 2019, they filed a petition in the Supreme Court, demanding an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the voter turnout data. Despite their efforts, the Supreme Court, in a ruling on May 24, 2024, declined to pass an interim order on ADR's petition, noting similarities between the petition and a previous case filed in 2019.

The ECI's decision to release the absolute numbers of votes polled has been welcomed by rights and transparency activists. Anjali Bhardwaj, an activist, expressed satisfaction with the move, highlighting its importance for ensuring the public's Right to Information. However, she also emphasized the need for further transparency, particularly in disclosing Form 17C, which is considered the statutory authenticated record of voter turnout.

In response to criticisms and allegations of discrepancies, the ECI issued a press note defending its processes. The commission asserted that the total number of votes polled, as recorded in Form 17C, cannot be altered and is available to all contesting candidates. It also stated that the process of collecting and storing votes is rigorous, transparent, and participative. The ECI further clarified that voter turnout data has always been accessible through the Voter Turnout App, with press notes serving as additional measures for dissemination.

Despite the ECI's assurances, concerns remain about the delay in releasing data and discrepancies in earlier reports. Critics argue that while the ECI may have made progress in addressing transparency concerns, further steps are needed to ensure the integrity and credibility of the electoral process.

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